The Many Faces of Love:
Staying Tuned to Your Child's Needs as They Grow
By Anne Leedom
I am going to admit something that is not something I am terribly proud of. I get my feelings hurt quite a lot lately. My oldest daughter is 10 years old (almost 10 and ½frac12; as she would say) and she just isn't too thrilled with Mommy's never ending hugs and kisses. Oh, I think she still likes it when I make a fuss over her and all, but there is a major shift occurring in how she wants me to relate to her.
I am suddenly hit smack in the face with the one thing about love that truly defines love….giving love to someone in the way THEY want to receive it, not the way YOU want to give it.
When my two girls were young I knew exactly what they needed to feel loved. They needed my endless patience, time and attention. They needed to be fed, bathed and rocked to sleep. They needed to be held. It was exhausting, but it was very straight forward in terms of how to make my children feel loved. I may not have always been able to provide it 24/7, but I knew what I had to do without question.
As they got a little older, it was still tiring…answering three thousand questions a day, listening to yet another version of who did what to whom or what the latest and greatest episode of Zack and Cody was all about. We played games, helped them with their homework and marveled at the amazing people they were becoming. The rules were still very clearly spelled out…spend time with your kids and they will generally feel loved and supported.
Ah…..but now the pre-teen years are lurking in the distance and the rules are changing faster than I can even begin to process them. They still need to be fed and clothed, but I have a lot less say and a lot less input into making that happen everyday. They are making good choices and it is time to give them some space to learn to take care of themselves.
They still love to play games and go on outings, but that will also become less of a factor as they continue to forge friendships that will soon rule their life. Thankfully, there is no end in sight to the countless songs and stories they want to hear at bedtime. Some shred of Mommy-hood remains.
However, I am left with a haunting, almost terrifying thought…when all of my tasks and the majority of my time are no longer focused on these wonderful and predictable ways to love my kids, how will they know everyday how much I treasure them and cherish them and worry about them?
The teenage years are clearly going to be about something very different than the childhood years. They are about standing back, a little more each day, more and more as the years go by. We want to raise independent, confident and happy kids and they need space and a certain amount of freedom to internalize how they want the world to be with the reality of how it works for them.
As our kids enter the pre-teen and teenage years, they will need strong boundaries so that when they push, someone is there to help them know when they are falling off a cliff and not just going for a walk in the woods. Somehow, having a 15 year old tell me she hates me will be harder to cope with then having a three year old say it. We have to be strong for them, not worry about being 'best friends' with our kids and remain consistent with what they need.
We, as parents, have a vision of the world they don't yet possess. There were many times growing up when I didn't feel terribly loved. My parents gave me way too much freedom, and while thankfully I didn't get into too much trouble, I did feel that my friends with strict parents were very fortunate…their parents cared about them.
I will be learning more about myself and my kids as the coming months and years unravel before me, however, I do have a great formula for moving into this frightening menagerie of the unknown. It all comes down to this…giving my kids the proper combination of space and boundaries along with my continued attention and support. How will I know if I am going about it the right way?
I will do what I have always done…the one thing that truly makes my kids feel loved. I will take my clues from them. In listening to my kids, watching their behavior and attitudes I have the greatest indicator at my disposal that I am making the difference in their lives that I want to make. When they know that I hear them and trust them, that they have earned that trust and that I am responding to their internal compass and reinforcing their strengths, they will feel loved…even when they are living far from home….someday.
Anne Leedom is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of www.parentingbookmark.com. She has been quoted in national print including Parents, Redbook and Nick Jr. Magazines and NPR. She contributes regularly to online publications and lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.